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tv   Religion Ethics Newsweekly  PBS  November 25, 2012 10:00am-10:30am PST

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and throughout the region, muslims, christians a jews all have been offering special prayers. in his four-day visit to southeast asia, president obama became the first u.s. president to visit myanmar, or burma. the president urged the new civilian government to continue its steps toward democracy. he also specifically called for more religious freedom. on a stop in thailand, the president visited bangkok's famous temple of the reclining buddha. he told monks there he needed prayers for help in his dealings with congress back home. and heret home, those lawmake are negotiating with the administration over how to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" looming at the end of the year. this week, a group of christian leaders urged congress and the president not to cut anti-poverty programs as they
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struggle to reach a deal. in an open letter, the leaders said "we pray during this season, in which we give thanks and offer gifts, that you will advance policies that protect the poor, not ones that make them poorer." meanwhile, a prominent christian advocacy group said while some progress has been made in fighting hunger and poverty worldwide, much more needs to be done. in its annual report, bread for the world called for a renewed push in meeting a series of international goals, including a pledge to cut poverty and hunger in half by the year 2015. the group said in order for those goals to be met, there will need to be continued strong support from the u.s. when the newly-elected congress is sworn in in january, it will be more religiously diverse than ever. the 113th congress will still have a protestant majority, but for the first time, it will include a hindu representative, a buddhist senator and the first member to self-identify as a
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"none," meaning no religious affiliation. the percentage of catholic members grew, up to 30%, while the total number of jews dropped slightly. in other news, the church of england will be keeping its policy of no female bishops. at the church's general synod meeting this week, delegates failed to approve a measure that would have allowed women to serve as bishops. the measure needed a two-thirds majority to pass, and it fell short by just a handful of votes. several other anglican jurisdictions have female bishops, including the u.s., australia, new zealand and, as of just last week, southern africa. the current archbishop of canterbury rowan williams and his newly-named successor justin welby had both supported the measure. the vatican announced this week that prominent american activist roy bourgeois has been dismissed from the priesthood because of his participation in a ceremony to ordain a female priest. the roman catholic church does not allow the ordination of women.
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bourgeois was a member of the maryknoll fathers and brothers and has been active in many liberal causes. president obama proclaimed november national family caregivers month, in order, he said, to "recognize and thank the humble heroes who do so much to keep our families and communities strong." one of the fastest growing areas of family caregiving is taking care of aging parents. all too often, family members are ill-equipped for the task. i looked at the emotional and spiritual challenges that can pose. three years ago, anne stine was a busy mother with three young children, and a husband who was on the road a lot. then her 87-year-old father, a very independent world war two veteran who lived about an hour away, suffered a stroke. >> and what i found was a man who was no longer independent. he was confused and worried and starting to bark orders.
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so it was a very emotional time for him, and it was a scary time for both of us. >> her dad, who lived alone, needed a lot of care. and the issues surrounding his care were overwhelming. >> the doctors came in and the social workers come in and they start all these questions, "where do you want your dad to go in rehab? are you set up in medicare and medicaid?" the list went on. and i was just a mom with three little kids and not prepared, not prepared to take on that responsibility. and yet i had to. >> according to a recent study, 36% of all caregivers are adult children taking care of an aging parent. and that's expected to rise dramatically. people 85 and older are the fastest growing group in america, and census projections say their numbers will more than double, to 11.5 million, by the year 2035. >> author jane gross says it's a
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situation our entire society is unprepared to deal with. her own education began about a decade ago, when she and her brother needed to care for their ailing elderly mother. as a journalist for "the new york times," gross was used to getting information easily. but with this, she says she felt clueless on multiple fronts. >> medical, various entitlement programs like medicare and medicaid and how they work. residential, where was she going to live? legal, financial, those are the most obvious ones but they don't overlap and, you know, you can't make three phone calls and figure them all out. >> based on her experiences, gross started the "new old age blog," and wrote a book called "a bittersweet season: caring for our aging parents and ourselves." with so many people living longer, gross believes one of the biggest social questions is
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how to pay for their care during the period of long, slow decline. >> my mother was as well-prepared as a person can possibly be for the end game, if you will. i mean, she had every document known to man in perfect order. and she had a decent amount of money. she spent $500,000, bare minimum, out of pocket, her own money, and then wound up on medicaid. >> gross says healthcare benefits don't include provisions for home health care or assisted living. >> you can get a new heart but you can't get somebody to take you to the supermarket. the assumption is that families will do that for themselves and families will pay for it themselves until they're impoverished and then the government will pay for them, if there'sny medicaid. >> complicating the situation
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even further, as is often the case, gross and her brother had to work through longstanding tensions in their own relationship as well as what she calls old family baggage with their mother. >> if there were some way for people in the moment to understand which of it is real and which of it is baggage and leave the baggage at the door, they would come out of it much better. >> the many difficult problems can take a severe emotional toll, especially for women, who are the majority of parental carevers. gross says she never realized how many exhausted, stressed-out caregivers were out there, until she became one of them. >> you would see them all the time in the parking lot of either the assisted living community or the nursing home, invariably slumped over the steering wheel and crying. and then suddenly you realized it's very hard.
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>> do you need me to stop and bring you lunch? >> anne stine says she felt torn between managing the care of her father and still meeting the needs of her children. >> you have the little ones who demand so much time and then if you're in a situation where your parent is also demanding a lot of time, you do become sandwiched and you're also pulled in both directions and what is the right thing to do, and priorities. >> a committed episcopalian, she says for her, it was a spiritual issue. >> i needed support from my church and my faith community right off the bat. i knew that i had to rely on god's strength and not my own. leaning on god's strength, leaning on my faith community i turned to my church and said "i don't know how to do this. i don't know how i'm going to get through this." >> if we're caring for other people, we're no good unless we take care of ourselves, and
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believe me, i have to remind myself of that quite regularly. >> reverend kate bryant is rector of stine's church, st. james episcopal church in leesburg, virginia. she went through a similar experience with her own mother, and says the spiritual aspects can often be overlooked. >> as in any care giving situation, that care can be so demanding emotionally, physically, and it's also demanding spiritually. i think a lot of people who are in care giving situations ask "why is god doing this to me? where is god in the midst of all this?" and they really struggle with spiritual matters as they pertain to aging parents. >> bryant says many people in her congregation were dealing with aging parents, so she and stine began searching for faith-based resources and support groups. but there didn't seem to be any. >> in my frustration i said something like, well there should be. i mean, when you become a parent, there's all these support groups and information,
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you're bombarded with it, but nothing when you have to take care of a parent? >> they started the "caregivers for aging parents" ministry at st. james. the ministry provides practical resources for parental caregivers and pairs those who have gone through it with those who are just beginning. >> know where your parents' finances are kept, what that situation is, do you have a living will, do you have a healthcare proxy, some of that information you can get at any local council on aging, it's laying over the spiritual component that's so important in the context of a church community. >> in the end, gross says the most important lesson she learned was not letting the logistics completely overwhelm what was truly important. >> the decisions that seem like they matter so much when you're making them by and large don't, but the quality of the time does. and you know, since time is finite i would worry less about fixing stuff that ultimately
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can't be fixed and worry more about gathering memories and feeling good about the experience. >> for bryant, caring for an aging parent led to a new understanding of the biblical commandant to honor your father and your mother. >> when we are children, we interpret that word honor as meaning being obedient. as parents age and become elderly or are aging that honor takes the form of kindness, thoughtfulness, care giving. >> how old were you in this picture? >> 21. >> 21. >> and despite the demands, or perhaps because of them, stine says she has found that caring for an aging parent can indeed be a spiritual blessing. >> and this experience has actually given me so much in return and it's really caring, really serving. the depth that goes into your soul when you don't know how
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you're going to do it, you really seek god and see god firsthand in the midst. we have a profile now of one of the world's most respected rabbis. he is adin steinsaltz, author of many judaic books and most admired for a monumental project that took him 45 years to complete. he translated the babyloni talmud from ancient hebrew and aramaic into modern hebrew and now, english. his translation and his own commentaries on jewish law have made the talmud more accessible to non-scholars. bob abernethy reports. >> we have a profile today of one of the most respected rabbis in the world.
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the devout come to the wall to pray, and so do many 13-year-old boys at the time of their bar mitzvahs, when they take on the full responsibilities of adults. one of those duties is studying the torah, with its 613 laws about how to live. the torah, for rabbi steinsaltz, is a divine guide, a map of the paths and the main road through a world of danger and blessings, in his words, lions and angels. >> we are living in a world we really don't know what are the paths. we don't know what are the ways. we don't even know what the main road is. so we need some kinds of signs to tell us that here live lions, and here possibly live angels. that's mostly what the torah is, a book basically of instructions -- go this way, go the other way, do it, don't do
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it. so that's as simple as that. >> holy as the torah is, its laws are in some ways unclear. for instance, it requires keeping the sabbath, but it never explains exactly how. so the talmud emerged, first as an oral tradition, later written down-centuries of rabbinical commentaries interpreting the torah's laws and arguing over them. rabbi steinsaltz began his translation of the talmud when he was 28. it took him 45 years and ran to 45 volumes. >> it was necessary because it is an important book. i once called it the center pillar of our culture. >> recently, steinsaltz was in new york city teaching and explaining what is unique about the steinsaltz talmud, his own commentary and extensive background.
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>> you have here the original hebrew, the translation in english, and then you have, you see, notes about the law. >> with his many books as well as his talmud translation, the rabbi personifies judaism's commitment to learning and to argument as a mns of understanding. >> the idea of the talmud is that you are allowed to ask questions about anything, everything that can be done, encouraging you to ask questions, trying to find answers. >> and the rabbis let her then remarry. even though there was only one witness. >> every day students and scholars around the world study and question and debate the meanings of the torah and talmud and the arguments of rabbis who have studied them. there is no single authority to decide how best to interpret the religious law, but argument over the centuries can lead to general agreement, until the
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next question and the next argument. steinsaltz was raised in a secular jewish family, but his father insisted he study the sacred texts so he would not grow up ignorant. i asked him how he became religious. >> it was almost spontaneous. i don't know where that came from. believing in god is in a way is the most natural, perhaps even the most primitive notion that people have. >> but belief, said steinsaltz, is just the beginning. >> what is really difficult is not so much the belief but the relationship. i'm still striving to become better, to become faithful for serving him, to become a human being as he possibly wants me to be. >> steinsaltz sees all human beings as god's partners in what jews call tikkun olam, repairing
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the world. >> the lord says i made the world. it's pretty good, but there are all kinds of holes in it. you people go, and you make the amendments -- bigger ones, smaller ones. but you, that's your duty. >> the rabbi says even the smallest good deed can have a global result, the so- called "butterfly effect." >> the movement of the wings of a butterfly can change the world, and the point is basically we live in one world. any movement in this world somehow affects everything else. so when we do anything better, we change the world. >> if jews study the torah, if they honor the sabbath and the other holy days, if they do good deeds and partner with god, steinsaltz says they will achieve holiness.
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he also says everyone possesses a divine spark. >> this spark is in a way trying to find its way to the main fire, and then it wants to sink into the main fire. >> steinsaltz said he saw no signs of any early peace in the middle east, but he insisted that he had not despaired. >> i am an optimist, meaning that i see things as black as they are, but i still hope. >> talking with the rabbi, it was clear that his optimism rests on his absolute trust in god. >> when you believe that, you see, everything comes from the lord. so whenever something happens if it's a glad thing, i'm saying thank you for making me happy or healthy or satisfied. if something untoward happens to
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me, it's saying the same thing. please, thank you for letting me know that you exist. god exists everywhere in every way in every form. we have so many prayers in our religion, so many prayers, but sometimes the prayer is just like i pick up the phone and say "hello, i'm glad that you are there." >> steinsaltz said he would like to be remembered as a person who did something to make the world better. he also said he would like to live another hundred years, teaching, writing, doing what he can to repair the world and to become, as he put it, the human being god possibly wants him to be. denise levertov has been described by critics as "one of the central figures in american poetry of the last 50 years."
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she died in 1997, and is included in a special exhibit at the national portrait gallery in washington. levertov's work contains many themes about faith and doubt, and draws from her background in judaism and christianity. we spoke about those themes with dana greene, author of new biography called "denise levertov: a poet's life." >> you know levertov believed that she was a pilgrim. she said at the end of her life she wanted to poetry itself which was on pilgrimage and it fits together with her notion of being in exile in some sense. she felt she lived on a borderland. i mean her mother was welsh, her father was as russian hasidic jew that converted to christianity and she was from them i think she got the sense of being in exile, on a
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borderland, a pilgrim to some other place. the jewish, the hasidic base out of which levertov worked was very profound and really influenced her. after about age 12, she was raised in a christian family but she really rejected all of this and became an announced agnostic. but she was interested in judaism. her father gave her a copy of martin buber's tales of the hasidim and she became very very interested in those jewish roots. she never rejected her jewishness and i think it does show up in her poetry. there's a profound sense of the divine sparks of god being everywhere and that the role of the devoted person is to bring
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those divine sparks together again. the connection between poetry and prayer become very deep in levertov's life. she says that sometimes in the process of writing poetry she feels as if it is a prayer, it is her prayer and yet she also sees that prayer and poetry run along parallel tracks. they are both born out of solitude and quiet. so she comes to see that she develops a very deep prayer life and encounters many people who
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help her in that. she is really very much a searching person. levertov said she was engaged in the wld becausehe was a poet. but there was this intimate link between artistic life, in her case poetry, and social engagement, social justice for the world. finally, on our calendar this weekend, many muslims observe the solemn holiday of ashura. for shiites, it commemorates the martyrdom of the prophet muhammad's grandson during the battle of karbala. that's our program for now. i'm kim lawton. you can follow us on twitter and facebook, where i have a page as well. watch us anytime on the pbs app for iphones and ipads. there's always much more on our web te. you can comment on all of our stories and share them. audio and video podcasts are also available. join us at as we leave you, hutu and tutsi members of rwanda's first and only female drumming troupe performing at the 2012 common
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ground awards for peace and reconciliation.
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